How Your Sunscreen Could be Harming Coral Reefs

How Your Sunscreen Could be Harming Coral Reefs

When we talk about the harmful effects of human activity on the ocean, we usually picture the release of effluent and plastic waste into the water. But what about our beauty products? Some of them- like sunscreen- could be killing coral reefs.

What Are Coral Reefs?

Corals are small aquatic organisms that grow over time to form large rocky structures (coral reefs). These reefs provide shelter to millions of marine species; are a food source for coastal residents; and provide a natural protective barrier for coastal communities and beaches. 

Because of the diversity of life found in the habitats created by corals, reefs are often called the "rainforests of the sea." About 25% of the ocean's fish depend on healthy coral reefs. Fishes and other organisms shelter, find food, reproduce, and rear their young in the many nooks and crannies formed by corals.

Some of the organisms housed in coral reefs have medicinal properties and have been used in developing treatments for Alzheimer's disease, bacterial infections, cancer, heart disease, and more.

Why are reefs in danger?

Humans pose the most threats to the survival of coral reefs. Unsustainable fishing methods, construction along coastlines, global warming, pollution, and coral mining all contribute to coral reef death.


So how does a seemingly safe product- sunblock- contribute to harming corals? Some of the ingredients are toxic to coral reefs, the main culprit being oxybenzone.

What is oxybenzone?

Oxybenzone (also called benzophenone-3) is a soluble organic compound that absorbs and stabilizes ultraviolet light. Its absorption properties minimize the damaging effects of UBA, UV, and short-wave UVA rays on the skin.

When used in hair products, it aids in preventing the deterioration of hair proteins. Unfortunately, this ingredient negatively affects both the environment and humans.

Effects of oxybenzone on coral reefs

Oxybenzone's UV- filtering component is the main problem. It's hugely detrimental to baby coral and zooxanthellae algae. Young coral is more susceptible to deformities and DNA damage, hampering, proper growth, and the ability to reproduce.

Oxybenzone causes bleaching of Zooxanthellae (the algae that lives in the tissue of coral). This algae is the primary source of the coral's nutrients and gives it its color. Oxybenzone is a pollutant that kills the algae.


When the algae die, the coral loses its food source. The coral changes color from vibrant to pale, hence the term "coral bleaching." Coral bleaching doesn't always cause coral death, but once the coral has reached this stage of decomposition, disease and mortality are highly likely.


The ideal situation should be that companies educate themselves diligently on the negative environmental impact of their product's ingredients. Unfortunately, it's usually independent research studies that reveal this vital information.

The effects of oxybenzone on humans

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), we need more research to understand all the effects of oxybenzone on the human body. What we know so far is that oxybenzone can cause both skin allergies and reactions when exposed to sunlight.


Studies performed on a particular sample group revealed that over 90% of the participants tested positive for oxybenzone in their urine samples. Unfortunately, oxybenzone is an ingredient in many beauty and skincare products. 

Other studies suggest that our absorption of oxybenzone weakens immunity, enabling the entry of other unknown chemicals into our bodies.


Some studies have also proven that oxybenzone may contribute to a hormonal imbalance of testosterone, estrogen, and the adrenal hormonal system. 


When shopping for sunscreen, choose formulas with natural ingredients such as aloe vera and shea butter. These are much better for your skin- and the environment too.

With love,

​The Sole Toscana Beauty Team

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